Sorting the whites from darks when you do laundry. How to scrub a toilet and mop the floor. Grocery shopping and meal-planning. Chances are, if you’re a woman, your mother gave you a lot of life skills around household management. But she might not have taught you how to create a budget, balance a checkbook or plan for unexpected expenses.
On average, girls exit their childhood with less financial literacy skills than boys. Boys are exposed more to discussions of finance, which increases their comfortability around money. Traditional gender roles impact this gap, as do general attitudes around girls and math. Outdated ideas that we need to leave far behind. There is absolutely no reason women can’t handle money just as well as men and, once we’re given the skills, we often do better than them with investment and savings decisions.
Post-divorce, you may have had to adjust to a different financial situation. Most women see a twenty percent decline in income when their marriage comes to an end. It may be your first time handling the finances, or you may have to fix the messes that your ex left you with, from credit card debt to a lowered credit score. Whatever the reasons, your relationship with money has probably changed.
Why not take your daughter along for the ride?
I’m not advocating burdening her with worries about money or debt, or inappropriately leaning on her for emotional support as you struggle with finances. I’m talking about consciously choosing to give her the skills you may have lacked.
My step-mother and I never really got along but I will be forever grateful for the financial skills she taught me when I got my first job. She sat me down with my measly paycheck from the craft store down the street and explained how to set aside a little each month for college, how to plan for bigger purchases, and how to balance my checkbook. From the day she married by father I had to buy my own clothes, pay for my own gas and car insurance, and cover any ‘fun’ stuff like movies with my friends. Since I didn’t have a credit card yet, I knew how to budget my money and how to live within my means.
This also taught me the value of money. When tempted to splurge on a new dress I quantified that impulse buy as three hours at work. Was it really worth it to me? I learned how to prioritize my spending and what really mattered.
I don’t think it was quite fair to burden a fourteen year old with money worries but there’s no doubt that when I went away to college I had skills that many of the girls on my dorm floor lacked. They constantly had to call home for more money or racked up huge credit card debt their first year – excited to have a credit card for the first time – with no idea of its impact on their credit score (if they even knew what a credit score was). Because what we grow up around is the norm until we see and experience something different I had no idea my experiences were unique.
As women, we need to set a new norm for our daughters. One that includes talking about how to look at the per ounce price to pick the cheaper laundry detergent. How to negotiate an extra twenty-five cents in her paycheck at that first job. Let her see you working in the budget spreadsheet and setting financial goals, comfortable with handling money.
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As she gets older, teach her how to track her spending. Old-fashioned pen and paper, spreadsheets, or apps she can download on her phone, there are plenty of tools to help both of you. A recent assessment of teens in the U.S. found that teens who had a bank account and pre-paid debit card scored twenty-four points higher on financial literacy tests than teens in the same socioeconomic class that did not – a compelling reason to take her down to the local branch and open an account.
Obviously, boys needs to be given these skill, too. I have a son and I’m planning on teaching him about money management as he gets older. He already knows the term ‘budget’! But because it’s less ingrained in our culture and society for girls to be given these skills, I do think it’s important to consciously work on closing that gap. When it comes to financial literacy let’s make sure both our daughters and our sons have the skills that they need to succeed in life.
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